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My Father’s Resurrection: A Funeral Homily

Trevor Bechtel
Trevor Bechtel

One of my father’s favorite small adventures involves a peacock. One day about 75 years ago, his sister Janet came to get him to let him know that their peacock, Birdy, had been attacked by a dog, and was dying. George carefully collected Birdy and set him in some wood shavings in the planing shop. George carefully prepared Birdy’s food and drink and over time Birdy came back to life. Recently his mother had died; George was 12 and struggling; it helped him to be able to look after the peacock. This story became more and more important as my father aged and his body, and mind started to fail. He remembered the time when he had brought a creature back to life, just as he longed for new life himself. We all supported this vision and so pictures of peacocks started to appear in his home. We bought some peacock napkins. He painted a number of memorable watercolors in his last years, including today’s bulletin cover.

All of this fits into a long history of how Christians have viewed the peacock as a symbol of Christ and of the resurrection, fitting into the practice of looking into the natural world for allegories and insight into how to follow God. The ancient Greeks thought that peacock flesh did not decay, and this belief persisted into Christianity. The peacock represented humility, for although the display is very beautiful, it is commonly kept hidden. When the tail display is shown it looks like hundreds of eyes echoing the scripture from Revelation, “In the middle of the throne and around it, were four living creatures all studded with eyes, in front and behind.” So in this way the peacock suggests the all seeing eye of God. The peacock loses his feathers every year and then renews them strengthening his connection to the resurrection. Peacocks kill snakes and were referred to as slayers of serpents giving them meaning as a symbol of Christ. These ancient ways of finding God in all things may not be our ways given our attention to science and rationality, but different ways of knowing can help us all understand ourselves.

This Easter, in their own celebration of the resurrection, Grace and Gini and Tamara made bold to ask George if he would give the prayer for their Easter meal. More and more in the last year, he has been refusing or even ignoring these opportunities, but he agreed. It took him a long time to get the words out, but here, paraphrased and second hand—like so much of our faith—is his prayer. Let us pray,

I’m at the end of my life
I’m thankful for the place where I’m cared for
I’m thankful for my family
I’m thankful for the hope that comes from the resurrection
Lord, you were gracious in your death
May we all be gracious in our deaths. Amen

George tried to live into this resurrection life, looking to live in a world where the rain falls on the just and the unjust through small adventures that sought flourishing and justice for all.

His mother died when he was a child; subsequently he was mistreated by his stepmother Peggy. I remember as a child being amazed to learn this tragic family story, because I already knew how gentle he was with Peggy and how much time our family spent with her. Even more importantly, George was a good and gentle parent, and broke this cycle of pain and absence. My father was not a stereotypically strong man, but I have often been amazed at the strength he must have had to give me the gentle childhood I had. On the other hand George had a sense of himself as harried by institutions, and having some enemies. He identified with Psalm 71. Still, with various degrees of success personally and institutionally, he sought to engage in his world in positive ways searching for unanticipated paths forward. I remember in the last few years approaching him with some of my own struggles, and even given his diminished mental capacity, his advice, counsel and support was routinely the best I received. Our Bechtel ancestors participated in the convoluted land transfer which transferred the land in the Haldimand tract from the Six Nations to the Bechtel family. When we put together a sign to explain the history of the Samuel Bechtel Site, Gini suggested including an acknowledgment of this history.

George came back to that historic and present injustice again and again. And so it makes sense for us now to pause as we continue to acknowledge that history and express gratitude to the Neutral, Anishnawbe and Haudenosaunee people who have been living on this land since time immemorial. In the last years of his life George was a reliable advocate of LGBTQ inclusion, in society, in families and in the church. This did not come naturally or easily to him but once he became convinced of it he was able to shift his whole worldview into alignment. George did none of these things perfectly, but often he tried. He did none of these things perfectly but he did do some of them surprisingly well. These vital things; being kind and gentle, searching together for better ways to live and engage, including others and working for justice and righting past wrongs are all resurrection ways of living.

The resurrection asks us to see the world the way God sees it, as both the glory of peacock’s display and the peacock broken and bruised yearning for new life. And, the resurrection asks us to respond. We are taught to live this way by Christ who showed us how to live. We are justified in this way of life by God, who recognized the anguish and injustice done to Christ and brought about the resurrection showing us that this way of living is beautiful and true and right. We are empowered to live this way by the Holy Spirit who breathes on us in surprising and diverse ways encouraging us to love the things that God loves, often shifting our worldview and realigning our vision. Our ways of living into the resurrection will not be George’s ways, but there are many ways of entering into the resurrection life-that great day that dawns-from caring for peacocks to Easter prayers. May we all find our own ways to follow Jesus. May we all see that great day that dawns, and the light that fills the world. Amen.